What is shutter speed and how does it affect my photos?

Shutter speed, along with aperture and ISO, forms the exposure triangle that dictates how light or dark your image is – in other words, the exposure of your photograph. But it's not just about brightness or darkness. Shutter speed also affects the portrayal of motion in your images.

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed refers to the length of time the camera's shutter is open. It's typically measured in fractions of a second (e.g., 1/200 means the shutter is open for one two-hundredth of a second), although for very low light conditions, you might use several seconds or even minutes.

How Does Shutter Speed Affect My Photos?

Motion Blur: Shutter speed plays a crucial role in how motion is captured in your photograph. A fast shutter speed (like 1/1000 of a second) can freeze fast-moving subjects, like a bird in flight or a player in a sports event. On the other hand, a slow shutter speed (like half a second or more) can blur motion, conveying a sense of movement. This is used in many types of photography, such as creating silky-smooth water in landscape photography or light trails at night from moving cars.

Exposure: Shutter speed also affects the overall exposure of your image. A faster shutter speed will let less light hit your sensor, resulting in a darker image, while a slower shutter speed will allow more light to hit your sensor, resulting in a brighter image.

Camera Shake: Using a shutter speed that's too slow can result in blur from your hands shaking, even if your subject is still. As a general rule, to avoid camera shake, you should aim for a shutter speed number that's higher than the focal length of your lens. For example, if you're using a 50mm lens, your shutter speed should be 1/50th of a second or faster. If your camera or lens has image stabilization, you can safely use slower shutter speeds.

Choosing the Right Shutter Speed

Choosing the right shutter speed will depend on what you're photographing and the kind of effect you want to create. If you're capturing fast-moving action, you'll likely want to use a fast shutter speed. If you're trying to show motion over time, a slower shutter speed will be more appropriate. Remember to pay attention to the light, though, as changing your shutter speed will affect the overall exposure of your photo.

Shutter speed, along with aperture and ISO, are fundamental to understanding exposure and achieving the creative look you want in your images. As with most things in photography, practice and experimentation are the best ways to get comfortable with using different shutter speeds.